Keith Johnson, president of the Long Beach Junior Crew board, couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched the action on TV monitors during the 2014 U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships at Lake Natoma, Calif., last Sunday. 

He thought to himself, “Their stroke rate is unbelievable.”

In the grand finale of the day, where the winners seize the bragging rights as the fastest men on the water, the Long Beach crew was in the lead. Johnson ran outside to witness their finish first-hand. Everyone on and around the race course was stunned that the powerhouse rowers of Oakland and Marin were passed by the Long Beach men as they pushed across the line for the gold medal, with a boat-length lead over Oakland Strokes in a 6:18.969.

Luke Khoury, one of the team’s co-captains, was so focused on participating in the Nationals that he didn’t mind missing graduation ceremonies from Wilson High, where he was one of the valedictorians and winner of a top math award.

“All season, our team was in a slump and things just didn’t add up. Suddenly (during that final race) it all came together, we got our rhythm and never looked back,” Khoury said.

The team of eight with their coxswain and alternate had lost the gold in regional qualifying by 9 seconds and struggled to work as a team. But they spent the last five weeks dedicated to making it happen on and off the water.

“We never won any major titles during the five years I’ve been a part of LBJC,” Khoury said. ‘Winning this last race at the biggest rowing event of the year and celebrating the incredible friendships that have developed over the past four years made it all come together. I got home, tried smoking a cigar to commemorate the win and tossed it after three puffs. The brotherhood we experienced on the water was unmatched.”

The Men’s 8+ is comprised of co-captain Luke Khoury (Wilson 2014), Brock Bozzani (Wilson 2016), co-captain Allen Reitz (Poly 2014), Weston Cole (Los Alamitos 2014), Austin Geller (Los Alamitos 2014), Logan Carter (Wilson 2014), co-captain Jared Arat (St. Francis 2014), Izak Epstein (Poly 2015), coxswain Liam Ehrlich (Poly 2014) and alternate Will Boudreau (Los Alamitos 2016). Last year, with the same core team, was the first time that LBJC has sent a Men’s 8+ to Nationals, and they finished with a fourth place. Coaches were Erich Hanxleden and Tom Graves, whose own high school career culminated as 2001 Men’s National Championship.

LBJC also faired well in other finals, with the Women’s teams, Lightweight (LTWT) 8+ and LTWT 4+, both taking bronze.

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